This spying and snooping has a long history. When a big corporate like Dow Chemicals resorts to snooping on private citizens, in this case on those agitating for compensation following one of the worst tragedies of our times, it only acts as a reconfirmation that they are guilty. This latest expose from Wikileaks only corroborates what we already knew.
We have had nothing to hide from the start. The work we did following the Bhopal gas tragedy was always in the public domain. We knew that Stratfor works for the US army and other departments of the state long before Wikileaks revealed this. Even before Union Carbide was bought by Dow Chemicals, they collected clippings and any news items on us and filed them for reference. We had filed a case in the US federal court in November 1999 against Union Carbide and in the course of investigations we found clippings marked “useful to us” by Carbide officials. They even submitted news clippings to the courts that claimed we had received huge amounts to fight Carbide and had stashed it in a Swiss account.
But since Dow took over, matters have been taken to another level, vis-a-vis the activists. The company started filing cases against us. They also keep increasing their demand for defamation charges. But things started changing for us too—since 9/11, the media in the US has started focusing on corporates.
If Dow has Stratfor, Union Carbide officials had senior ministers like the Bhopal gas relief minister Babulal Gaur and others who, I am convinced, are now too helping Dow Chemicals. Not less than 15 studies (some done by the Central Pollution Control Board) revealed high levels of contamination in water and soil and their impact on the human body. Mr Gaur refused to even acknowledge the study. Way back, he even got a letter from Union Carbide which talked about how some people in Bhopal were making a lot of noise and they had to be taken care of. We realised that whenever we tried to take the fight to the corporates, we were getting beaten up by the state government itself.
More recently, look at what happened on December 3 to a peaceful demonstration against Dow marking the 27th anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy. Activists were beaten up and hauled off; 14 people are still in jail. Six of them have documents to show that they were not even present at the demonstration. These people have had serious charges slapped against them; the police say they were moving around with swords and countrymade weapons. Three months have passed and no hearing has taken place. We have all the evidence to show that the police started the violence. In fact, we have second-by-second video footage to show who started the violence.
Over the years, we have had several cases slapped against us—from attempt to suicide, to rioting to assaulting policemen (this when we have pictures to show that it is the police who were assaulting us). We go after the company and the state goes after us. I am pretty sure that if convicted on all the charges against me, I will have to spend a minimum of 15 years in jail.
Incidentally, this Wikileaks revelation is just the tip of the iceberg. There is more to come, I am sure. Last time, Wikileaks exposed the former Left government in Bengal. It showed how the Left’s public position on Dow did not match their actions in Bengal. What Wikileaks has done is essentially what the Indian media should have done against a company that has so much influence at all levels of the state.
I do believe that while some sections of the media succumb to allurements from the state and corporate houses, by and large the Indian media has batted with a straight bat. There was a time when I used to be portrayed as a Carbide spy by the local media. I was even charged with espionage activities by the Madhya Pradesh government. All this for trying to help the victims.
—as told to Anuradha Raman
(Sarangi runs the Bhopal Sambhavna Trust Clinic and is founding member, Bhopal Group for Information and Action.)